In the year 1840, California witnessed the most spectacular and daring horse stealing raid ever to take place. This was led by Ute Indian Chief Walkara and mountain man Peg-leg Smith. Rancheros and missions from San Luis Obispo south to San Juan Capistrano and east to San Bernardino were plundered of their best horses. The thieves drove more than 3,000 Spanish horses over Cajon Pass into the Mojave Desert. The angry Spanish, in pursuit of the stolen horses, stopped at a desert spring for water and rest. Walkara and some of his men, who were hiding in the willows, slipped from cover, secured the Spaniards' horses, and rode off into the desert. Left on foot, the Californians were picked up the following day by more of their men in pursuit. Advancing onward they succeeded in recapturing about 1,200 of the slower horses. The rest were safely driven into Utah.
In 1847, Miles Goodyear, after selling his trading post where Ogden, Utah, now stands, went into southern California to legally purchase 230 of the best Spanish horses he could find. Following the Old Spanish Trail along the route of the huge herd of horses stolen 7 years earlier, he drove his herd into southwestern Utah through Mountain Meadows, across the Escalante Desert, north to the Sevier River, and beyond to the Salt Lake Valley.
Virtually thousands of Spanish horses were driven across the Old Spanish Trail into Utah, legally purchased or stolen during numerous raids by Chief Walkara. There is no doubt that many of these horses escaped into the mountains of southwestern Utah to become what we now know as Spanish Mustangs.
Over the years the wild horses multiplied, and after settlement of the southwestern Utah area, ranchers released larger domestic stallions to try to increase the size of the smaller Spanish Mustangs. These and their crosses remained in the valleys where the ground was easier on their softer hoofs, Then came the mustanging years from the early 1900s through the 1950s, when most of the horses were captured out of the valleys or shot and sold for meat. But a herd of small Spanish horses survived on the Mountain Home Range, where capture by mustangers was next to impossible because of the dense stands of pinion-juniper and the rough terrain. These horses retained many characteristics of the Spanish Sorraia, primitive ancestor of the Iberian Saddle Horse (Jennet from the Golden Age of Spain.) Authorities believe it was the Sorraia or a Sorraia-Iberian cross that Christopher Columbus first brought to the Caribbean Islands, and that were later crossed with Andalusian chargers on the first colonial stud farms of the West Indies. A special characteristic of the Sorraia breed is its extreme hardiness, the horses are able to survive on very poor vegetation while withstanding extreme climatic conditions. Their primitive coloring is also unique; they are all line-backed duns and mouse-gray grullas, with horizontally striped legs, dark-tipped ears, and two-color manes and tails.
After 1971, when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, the Mountain Home Range became part of the 142,800-acre Sulphur Herd Management Area, under jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management's Beaver River Resource Area of the Richfield District. It was not until the mid-1980s that the BLM recognized the special characteristics of the wild horses on the Mountain Home Range.
Well over half of the Sulphur homes are line-backed duns and grullas; the rest are a mixture of bays, blacks, chestnuts, sorrels, and browns, typical color variations in a Spanish mustang herd. As a whole, the Sulphur horses of the Mountain Home Range possess a good history of possible isolation and probable Spanish descent, a definite Spanish appearance, and though a complete blood-typing evaluation of the herd has yet to be done, many of the horses carry markers that strongly signify Spanish ancestry. These are all qualifications necessary in determining whether horses are Spanish mustangs.
Although the BLM also manages the Pryor Mountain herd of Montana and Wyoming and the Kigers of Oregon as Spanish-type horses, only the very small Cerbat herd of Arizona and the Sulphur horses of Utah's Mountain Home Range have been recognized by the Spanish Mustang Registry as true Spanish Mustangs. The Pryor Mountain horses do show a strong Spanish influence, but they show some physical traits of the draft horse. Not only do the Kigers show traits of other breeds, but the area where they originated does not have a good history of Spanish horse introduction (note: genetic placement analysis of the Kigers places them amongst the non-Iberian breeds).
What makes the Sulphur horses unique is that they are probably the only horses in existence representing the Spanish horse of colonial southern California. They are descended from the most recent, in historical time, introduction of pure Spanish horses into the wild.
Since the discovery of the Sulphur homes by the BLM, the National Mustang Association of Newcastle, Utah,has been a generous contributor to the BLM for habitat improvements, water developments, and grazing allotment purchases on the Sulphur Herd Management Area to benefit the wild horses and wildlife. Now the National Mustang Association is spearheading a project to have the Mountain Home Range made into a National Wild Horse Range, and public support is needed. At present, there are only three such ranges in the United States Such action would help secure the protection, preservation, and perpetuation of the Mountain Home Range Spanish Mustangs.
The Mountain Home Range is located 50 miles west of Milford, Utah, the first mountain range southeast of Great Basin National Park. The north end of the range almost reaches Uta~ 21, about 15 miles south of Garrison, Utah. It then runs south along the Utah-Nevada border.
For more information about the Sulphur horses, contact:
National Mustang Association, 1st and Main St., Newcastle, UT 84756; 801-439-5440.
For more information about Spanish Mustangs, contact:
Spanish Mustang Registry, Route 3, Box 7670, Wilcox, AZ 85643; 602 384-2886.
To support the creation of a National Wild Horse Range for the Mountain Home Range Spanish Mustangs, write to:
Bureau of Land Management, Beaver River Resource Area, 365 S. Main St., Cedar City, UT 84720.
The author has been superintendent of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources' Mantua Fish Hatchery for 24 years. He is a student of western history, especially the fur trade era, and has adopted and breeds Sulphur horses.